The former England skipper, who turned 38 on Tuesday, will make his 459th and final appearance for his hometown club in Friday’s Grand Final against St Helens at the KCOM Stadium.
O’Loughlin hopes to bow out on a high with a fifth Super League ring from his eighth Grand Final appearance but it was an inauspicious beginning as he made his debut as a raw and nervous teenager as a substitute in a 20-18 home defeat by Hull.
“I don’t remember the game too much, I just remember feeling I was out of my depth,” he said. “The standard of the game was way bigger than I was used to.
“I always remember when you step up from schoolboy to academy and then academy to A team, the biggest jump of all is from the A team to first team and I just remember my lungs feeling like they were coming out of my chest.
“It almost felt like I was a kid playing against a bunch of dads. It was a shock to the system but, once you get a couple of games under your belt, you kind of come into your own and start to enjoy it.”
Wigan head coach Adrian Lam played in that match against Hull in 2002 and had no doubt O’Loughlin would be able to match the achievement of his brother-in-law Andy Farrell in reaching the top of the game.
“From those early days he was always going to be someone special,” Lam said.
“As he matured and took on the captaincy for the last 11 years, he led the club to probably its most successful time in Super League.”
O’Loughlin will be playing only his eighth game of the season on Friday after a Covid and injury-disrupted year but believes he has earned his place in the side on merit.
“Obviously I wanted to play as many games as I could this season but coming out of lockdown I had a few niggles that prevented that,” he said.
“I would have been very comfortable with whatever decision Lammy made but I wouldn’t have wanted to be in the side unless I earned that spot.
“I just wanted to give myself the opportunity to put myself in the frame and, if I was needed, then I was good to go. Luckily enough, I managed to get a couple of games in.
“As much as I wanted to be playing, I would have been very disappointed if I was in there and not on merit.”
St Helens captain James Roby has no doubt Wigan are a better team for the presence of their veteran loose forward.
“Having Sean in there will give them that extra ingredient,” Roby said. “He will give them a lift.”
After initially agonising over his decision to retire, O’Loughlin says he is now at ease with it as he prepares to turn his thought to full-time coaching.
“For the last four of five years or so I’ve helped out with the academy and it’s been great seeing some of the lads come through,” he said.
“It’s a bit of a surreal experience getting to play with the likes of Ollie Partington and Morgan Smithies after coaching. It’s almost like a different pleasure at this point in my career.”